Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean

So I have been out of touch for a while, studying, finishing school, finding a job and the like. I will be done with this grad school nonsense on June 8th and start my new job with the World Bank on Monday June 11th. (The ghost of my anti-gloablization 15 year old pink haired self is having a heart attack about that...) I will be leaving on a month long mission in East Africa and Central Asia on June 17th, so they aren't wasting any time in getting me into the field.

In the mean time, however, I am on vacation in Colombia. And, contrary to popular belief, there are other things to do here besides cocaine. And it is not anywhere near as dangerous as the hype would suggest. I have been here four days and haven't ONCE been shoved into a car trunk by a naro-terrorist.

I am currently in the colonial city of Cartagena. It was a bit of an odyssey getting here. I took Avianca airlines, which those of you that grew up on LI will remember for flying a plane into a Glen Cove hillside when we were in about fifth grade because it ran out of gas. Indeed, lesson learned, one of the many things they delayed/aborted take-off because of during my 12 hour delay at Kennedy was lack of fuel. Others included engine problems, general mechanical failure, restless illegals that were being deported, late arrival of other flights, etc. I got to Bogata at 1 am, having missed my connection by, oh, a full work day. They put me up in a hotel and let me sleep for three hours before getting up to make the morning flight.

Cartagena is one of the first port cities founded by Europeans over here. It was rather unfortunately (1) founded by the Spanish, and (2) situated a smidge too close to where the mythical city of El Dorado was supposed to be. As a result, English pirate Sir Francis Drake cannoned the holy living crap out of it a number of times during its existence.

My first day here I wandered around the old city, visiting the churches good Sir Drake missed, plus a few of the local museums. The gold museum was nice, and not only because it was free and air conditioned. (Cartagena is hotter than the sun with 100 percent humidity.) It had some pretty pieces that weren't melted down to make dubloons. The Inquisition museum was a little more bizarre because it was completely in Spanish, which of course I can't read. So I had to speculate as to exactly what these giant hooks and cranks and spikes make have been used for. I hope I have an overactive imagination.

The next day I went to the local volcano. It seems that every Latin American city has a local volcano but this one was truly special. The local legend is variations of a theme of a priest coming upon a giant fiery pit which was a portal directly to hell, and turning it into mud. So what is left is a 50 foot high mound with a bottomless pit of mud in it. Tourists jump into it and get "massaged" by a group of local professional 18 year old males. (Not surprisingly rubbing the foreigner girls with mud for six times what your father makes as a farmer is a coveted career choice in the nearby village.) So in we went. (I was traveling with a pair of Irish girls, one of which repeated the mantra "fer fook's sake!" pretty much continuous throughout the ordeal, er experience.) The mud had the consistency of a well-stirred clay slip bucket and you floated in it like the Dead Sea. You couldn't touch the bottom (it's a volcano after all) so you just kind of hung around in suspended mud animation while some cute guy rubbed your back for an hour. Then you go wash off in the lagoon and eat fried fish.

The next day I decided to head to Playa Blanca, the famous local beach. It is an hour ride in a packed motor boat to the beach itself, but you can only do it as part of a trip to the local aquarium and islands, which are a further 1.5 hours away. The boats are as crowded as bush taxis and go way too fast. Every so often one will hit a submerged log and sink. Guide books generally recommend against it. I spent the entire ride hanging over the side with a look a pure bliss on my face most akin to a Labrador with its head out the car window.

One the way out we passed a full masted pirate ship with a five man sword fight going on on the upper deck. As we were in the middle of the ocean and the only tourists in sight, it was a little confusing until the guide explained that its wasn't the reincarnation of Sir Frankie, but rather just a filming of a Mexican soap opera. On we went. At one point we stopped to admire a group of houses from a little bay, and a man in a canoe and a beach umbrella appeared to sell us lobster with ketchup. My mouth watered as I had skipped breakfast. Then the kid from Seattle sitting next to me started to rail against eating lobster from a marine park. I sighed and watched the little boat putter away. Best not to piss off your translator.

The beach was nice, white sand and fried fish. It also had its share of heavily armed government troops, just in case any naro-terrorists had specially installed car trunks on their motor boats. One struck up a conversation with the sister of Mr. Kill-Joy-No-Lobster. Though it was in Spanish, apparently he spent a hour trying to convince her to go to a cave with him so she could try his M-16. I still haven't figured out exactly what that was a metaphor for, but wisely she passed.

Which brings us to today. My buddy from school is coming down tonight so I am just killing time until he gets here. In the mean time, I got a manicure and am going craft shopping. I went to the best neighborhood in the city and just walked around until I found a salon (in a strip mall with a FedEx, a Citybank, Blockbuster and a Curves gym - who says you can't bring Long Island with you!) We had no idea what we were saying to each other, and some of their implements were certainly on loan from the Inquisition museum, but it was a nice time anyway.

That is all from here. There are no pictures with this one because I don't have my laptop with me this time. I will post them when I get back. And for those of you that have questions about anything, don't worry about e-mailing me, just post them after this entry and I will answer them next time I log on. Hope all is well.


Erin said...

Hey Skit, Quit making fun of all the "kill-joy" vegetarians & environmentalists out there. Stay safe. Love, Chicky

Mohamed said...

I can completely imagine the 15 yrs old pink haired anti-globalisation within - and for some reason i think she's still around. Whatever you do, just make sure she doesn't manifest herself on 1818 H Street :)